Objective To evaluate which factors are the most strongly related to self-perceived health among older men and describe the shape of the association between the related factors and self-perceived health using machine learning. Design and setting This is a cross-sectional study within the population-based VAScular and Chronic Obstructive Lung disease study (VASCOL) conducted in southern Sweden in 2019. Participants A total of 475 older men aged 73 years from the VASCOL dataset. Measures Self-perceived health was measured using the first item of the Short Form 12. An extreme gradient-boosting model was trained to classify self-perceived health as better (rated: excellent or very good) or worse (rated: fair or poor) using self-reported data on 19 prevalent physician-diagnosed health conditions, intensity of 9 symptoms and 9 demographic and lifestyle factors. Importance of factors was measured in SHapley Additive exPlanations absolute mean and higher scores correspond to greater importance. Results The most important factors for classifying self-perceived health were: pain (0.629), sleep quality (0.595), breathlessness (0.549), fatigue (0.542) and depression (0.526). Health conditions ranked well below symptoms and lifestyle variables. Low levels of symptoms, good sleep quality, regular exercise, alcohol consumption and a body mass index between 22 and 28 were associated with better self-perceived health. Conclusions Symptoms are more strongly related to self-perceived health than health conditions, which suggests that the impacts of health conditions are mediated through symptoms, which could be important targets to improve self-perceived health. Machine learning offers a new way to assess composite constructs such as well-being or quality of life.